Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What I Remember on Remembrance Day, The Unpopular Recall. . . . .

I honestly believe that Remembrance Day (or Veteran's Day as it was in the States when I grew up) does a significant and and lasting disservice to veterans of all wars and to our nations in general, at least in its modern incarnation. One would have to be blind not to see that Remembrance day has become not an effort to remember the horrors of war and need to avoid armed conflict in the future, but rather has become an exercise in blind patriotism. I think that an argument can be made that certain armed conflicts in, say, the past hundred years have been necessary, or even justified. But one would have to be deeply ignorant of 20th century history to imagine that the lion's share of armed conflicts that the Western nations have been involved in during the last century had anything to do with freedom or democracy. Such a claim is, quite frankly, counterfactual. But the 'patriotic' element in the Remembrance Day process has come to spin the events this way for a couple of reasons. The first is that no one wants to believe that any of the soldiers who were killed (on our side that is) died fighting for some ignoble goal; as though if we suggest that soldiers of the line were somehow duped into fighting for the wrong reasons, this belittles them as men. Another reason that this spin on on war must continue is that we continue to fight in wars that are part of a Western Capitalist agenda of money and geo-politics. And so the History Channel airs movie after movie that portrays our "good soldiers" on the one side and the the "bad guys" on the other. And on Remembrance Day everyone seems to forget that war is, almost literally, 'hell,' and a real and meaningful Remembrance Day would do a proper service to veterans and nations if we recalled all the terrible things of which our own country and our allies have been guilty as well as the good things. This would help us remember that war should be avoided at all costs and that the silent victims of war such as the millions of women that have been raped and children that have been killed and abused over the past hundred years in armed conflict are all too easily forgotten on these days when we are supposed to remember. My great-grandfather was in the First World War, a pointless horrible conflict that was really about colonialism, and he suffered from mustard gas poisoning. He blamed the leaders and the rich for the war and he hated war ever after. And it is his stories of the war that come down through our family. He believed that the war was committed in the service of big capital and that the workers were the cannon fodder for a battle over business turf. People can suggest all day long that I am disrespectful of the veterans, but as far as I am concerned each Remembrance Day is deeply disrespectful of my great grandfather because people have tried to romanticize and justify the slaughter of innocents and average workers.

For all these reasons, on Remembrance Day, I chose to remember all the horrible things that all sides in all armed conflicts have engaged in, as well as all the silent victims of our bombs and our guns that had nothing to do with the choices of the leaders and the elites. And if I want to really remember who gave us our freedoms, I recall all the Unions activists like my Grandfather Thomas Evans who spent his life fighting for workers rights, human rights, and democracy - not against foreign invaders but against the capitalists and the elite of his own country who did everything they could to keep such rights away from the people. If you are looking for someone to thank for your freedoms, go to your nearest union and you will find people that are fighting everyday to save our country from tyranny, and remember it is not vague, faceless enemies from across the sea somewhere that are the threat to your rights, it is people right here at home like Stephen Harper. Remember that!


Anonymous said...

Still, the biggest union we have in Canada *is* Canada. That our workers volunteered for the ultimate hazards, some of them never returning, deserves some moment of honour. That the war aims weren't actually as virtuous or as direly existential as we may, in retrospect, wish them to be, doesn't matter so much to the sacrifices we asked of these men.

Is it a coincidence that the time period following the two major wars of the 20th century correspond to the massive expansion of the welfare state and individual rights?

Perhaps bringing together men from our disparate regions and classes and bonding them firmly with the heat of ample enemy fire, is actually directly responsible for the forging of the union movement in Canada.


kirbycairo said...

I am not sure I entirely understand what you are trying to say Leo. But I will say that I have never bought the claim that volunteerism is, in itself, a virtue. It is what you volunteer to do, not the fact that you offered to do it that has value in my mind.

As for the long post-war boom, it is related to the war economically speaking. But that is much a bad thing as a good one in as much as our economic success has depended largely on suffering in the developing world.

Your last point is simply counterfactual. There is absolutely do direct link between some kind of battle camaraderie and the union movement. The only link that could be made here is that between the process of industrialization and the trade union movement - but wars are by no means 'necessary' to industrialization, the link is incidental not integral.

Anonymous said...

I was just picking up on the premise you seemed to present in your remarks - that your great-grandfather's experiences in WWI had a direct impact on his social conciousness. Certainly this cannot have been an isolated experience. I'm suggesting that the experiences of veterans positively impacted the development of labor unions in the two post-war periods, from the proliferation of the straightforward anti-Capitalist view to subtler effects of organizational and bureaucratic expertise gained during the large mobilization periods.

For instance, there is some evdience that demobbed soldiers were a major pro-strike force in Winnipeg in 1919.


kirbycairo said...

Oh, I see Leo, I didn't see what you were saying there, sorry I missed it. There maybe something in that, interesting thought, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Are you speaking as American or Canadian?

I suggest you google Canadian Peacekeeping.

kirbycairo said...

Really Anonymous, you suggest that I use google do you? Well, what a bold and clever little fellow you must be to have found that beloved source of research!

Anonymous said...


Do you ever wonder how people stumble on these blogs. I will tell you a story. I attended a ACAD christmas sale and thought about you and your dad and what had become of both of you. Next thing you know I am looking you up on "google" and low and behold I find you...cool. Looked thru your blog and saw that you were still doing art..awesome and had a daughter...very cool.

I am very sorry to here about your dad passing..but happy to see his art still lives in you and hopefully your daughter as well.

I enjoyed looking thru your posts and reading the "non political" entries. I never really understood the point of blogging but I am guessing it is a podium to say what you want...positive or negative. I think you have the negative down to a science and I hope you focus on more of the positive.

I regret posting the comment about remembrance day as your response was not what I expected a conversation with one of my best friends from the past to start.

I truly wish you and your family the best in life.

I will get off your grass now.

kirbycairo said...

Dear Don, I wished you had left your last name. Do you mean Don from Sunnyside and Rosedale? If so how are you and what did you do with you life?

If you are the one that left the comment on peace-keeping, you have to understand it is not uncommon for me to get comments from people who simply disagree with me but have no interest - or no significant ability - to actually have a discourse about such things. My real opinions about this issue could never be properly explained in the short context of a blog anyway.

As for blogging - it is a catharsis for me and keeps some of my frustration and anger at bay. But my opinions are so far from the main stream that there is very little discourse in which I can meaningfully engage.

The death of my father has been a devastating loss for me that I have only begun to deal with. I hope you found my post of his obituary.

Email me if you feel so inclined at thinkagain11@rogers.com